Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What should be the language of learning at the University of Stellenbosch?

Is the Democratic Alliance raising an authentic concern that the University of Stellenbosch may be ‘jettisoning’ Afrikaans in making English the primary language of instruction? Or is the party simply appeasing its white Afrikaans-speaking voters, the accusation among its opponents?

At the risk of drawing charges of my being a rabid DA supporter and oppressive agent of white monopoly capital, here are just a few considerations that rule out simple answers.

1. In a free society, minorities would ideally be taught in their language of birth. Why else are there 11 official languages in SA?

2. To conduct studies in English is no less 'discriminatory' against, say, IsiXhosa speakers than to conduct them in Afrikaans: neither is their language of birth.

3. Many suspect this issue is politicised. Or do we entertain the same feelings about a university teaching primarily in 'African' languages?

4. Primary and secondary education are unarguably a basic right. But it is illogical (and unsustainable) to claim tertiary education is a universal right demanding one language of instruction. That is because higher education, coming as it does on maturity, is a choice people make for themselves, based on their aspirations and ability.

5. Under democracy, the fact that universities and students are government funded cannot give government the right to dictate how they work.

6. If a university teaches in a language that is not viable, it will not itself be viable. The problem of serving a privileged few is self-solving.

7. The lingua franca or common language of a people is literally the most 'democratic' decision they make, growing as it does out of the need to communicate with the majority of their fellows. The alternative to such a common language, whether first or secondary, is a language government imposes, the historical root of our present disagreements.